Raising a glass to female friendship and drinking in ‘Winesday the Wine Tasting Musical’ Off-Broadway at The Theater Center

Every Wednesday night a group of five 30-40-something women get together for drinking wine and talking about their lives under the pretense of a book club (or yoga class or tap dancing, since no one actually reads the book) in the new Winesday the Wine Tasting Musical, playing a limited Off-Broadway engagement at The Theater Center. Written by Jenne Wason (book and lyrics) and Joseph Benoit (music, arrangements, and orchestrations), the light-hearted look at female friendship, non-judgmental advice, and unwavering support combines song, movement, and conversation with wine, served to the audience and introduced in direct address by a comical wine steward, who matches the contents of the show’s four scenes with the unique qualities of each of the varietal selections.

Michael Valvo, Jennifer Diamond, Dawn Cantwell, Debra Thaïs Evans, Amanda Lea LaVergne, and Shannen Hofheimer. Photo by Russ Rowland.

Under the direction of Jamibeth Margolis, the characters’ personality types and issues are revealed with an eye on the silliness and the effects of the ever-flowing libations, through over-the-top facial expressions and body language, jokey props (by Christopher Devlin), changing costumes (with Molly Goldberg as consultant), and sixteen segments of singing and cavorting to the music (with Merete Muenter providing movement coordination), accompanied by a live three-piece band (music director and conductor Alec Bart on piano, Rick Snell on guitar and bass, and Britton Matthews on drums), in a variety of styles ranging from country to pop and doo-wop (with sound by Kimberly S. O’Loughlin).

Winter (played by Debra Thaïs Evans) – a writer with a husband and an untrustworthy “writing guru” who helps her writing and to whom she’s given a key to her basement (in which the wine cellar is located) – hosts the weekly meet-up and keeps the glasses full in her living room, furnished with a comfortable sofa and ottoman, and the all-important wine bar (no credit is given in the program for the set design, a piece of which fell off at the performance I attended and was retrieved and reattached by members of the cast, adding to the hit-or-miss nature of the show).

Michael Valvo, Jennifer Diamond, Debra Thaïs Evans, Dawn Cantwell, and Shannen Hofheimer. Photo by Russ Rowland.

She is joined by Sammie (Jennifer Amanda Diamond), who appears to have the perfect life with her husband, two kids, and a successful career (though no one really knows what she does); the wealthy Vanessa (Shannen Hofheimer), who dines out and travels the world with her well-connected wife Chiara but also loves being at home with her dog Barney; Jess (Dawn Cantwell), a smart and impassioned political activist whose latest cause is to get city council to approve a rainbow in the town’s central crosswalk; the single Molly (Rachel Zatcoff, in for Lea LaVergne on the date I was there), who obsesses over men and worries that she’ll never find the right match or be married; and the unnamed wine steward (Michael Valvo), who eventually crosses over from the segments of wine tastings and enters the scenes with the women, serving them, joining in their tap dance, and reacting to their conversations.

Debra Thaïs Evans, Jennifer Diamond, Dawn Cantwell, Amanda Lea LaVergne, and Shannen Hofheimer. Photo by Russ Rowland.

Among the most amusing bits are Molly’s repeated songs about the “Perfect” men she’s dating (which, the others note, are far from); Sammie, upset about her kindergartner not getting a part in his school’s Christmas pageant, leading the other women in mid-century-style harmonies on “Fifth Shepard from the Right,” expressing her hopes for him to appear in at least a minor role; and a partly slow-motion vignette of the women reacting to the abundant wine and psychedelic gummies they just ingested in “Lush-a-noia” (enhanced by Kathryn Eader’s lighting).

In the end, despite all the whining, the funny tee-shirts they wear acknowledge the importance of their weekly wining, which brings and keeps them together and toasting their friendship. And their imbibing.

Running Time: Approximately one hour and 45 minutes, including an intermission.

Winesday the Wine Tasting Musical plays through Thursday, July 25, 2024, at The Jerry Orbach Theater, The Theater Center, 210 West 50th Street, NYC. For tickets (priced at $69-150, plus fees), call (212) 921-7862, or go online. To attend, you must be over 18 and show proof at the door; to participate in the wine tastings, you must be 21 or older. Non-alcoholic tastings are available for those under 21 and anyone who prefers that option.

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